BREVARD COUNTY, Fla. – Rebekah Jones, the fired Florida Department of Health data scientist-turned-whistleblower, turned herself in to police Sunday night to face a felony charge and a possible ban on using computers and the internet as a condition for release on bond, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement said Monday.
Court records show Jones bonded out at her initial appearance Monday morning. Her bond was set at $2,500. It is unclear if conditions were imposed.
The FDLE in their arrest warrant affidavit suggested bond conditions of “no computer access, no internet access, and no contact with the witnesses or those people whose personal information was acquired through the download.”
Jones, 31, was charged under Florida’s computer related crimes statute “with one count of offenses against users of computers, computer systems, computer networks and electronic devices,” the FDLE said. If convicted the third-degree felony can carry a penalty of up to 5 years in prison and a $5,000 fine.
According to FDLE’s arrest warrant affidavit, the FDLE allege Jones sent a message from a Department of Health emergency messaging system calling on civil servants to “speak up.”
“It’s time to speak up before another 17,000 people are dead,” the alleged message read, in part.
The investigation began November 10 after FDLE received a complaint from the Florida Department of Health that someone illegally accessed a state emergency-alert messaging system, known as ReadyOp. FDLE agents determined the message was sent from Jones’ home in Tallahassee, the agency said.
The FDLE executed a search warrant on Jones’ home on December 7. Armed agents raided Jones’ home seizing computer hardware, phones and memory devices. The raid drew criticism from some for its heavy handedness. Legal and digital rights experts were also concerned about the vagueness of the search warrant affidavit.
‘They pointed guns at my kids’:Florida police raid home of fired data scientist who built state’s COVID-19 dashboard
FDLE says evidence shows Jones illegally accessed message system
In a series of tweets Saturday, Jones announced that she would be turning herself in and claimed that her impending arrest was unrelated to the reasons behind the December raid.
But the FDLE alleges that evidence they found as a result of that raid “shows that Jones illegally accessed the system sending a message to approximately 1,750 people and downloaded confidential FDOH data and saved it to her devices.”
The office of the State Attorney for the 2nd Judicial Circuit will prosecute the case.
Coronavirus Watch newsletter:Sign up for daily updates right in your inbox
Jones on Dec. 21 filed a civil suit against the state in response to the Dec. 7 raid, alleging it was an act of retaliation. In the suit she denied the allegations against her and claimed her constitutional rights were violated.
Jones was fired from the Department of Health in May for alleged insubordination. She has claimed she was fired for refusing to doctor the state’s COVID-19 numbers on the DOH’s coronavirus dashboard. Since then she has created her own competing dashboard which she says presents the data more honestly, and includes additional public health metrics.
More recently Jones began compiling COVID-19 data related to schools nationally, submitting at least two research papers for journal publication. She has gained a considerable online following on Twitter where she has over 370,000 followers and is a frequent critic of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Her last tweet on Sunday read: “Censored by the state of Florida until further notice.”
Follow reporter Alessandro Marazzi Sassoon on Twitter: @alemzs
USA TODAY vaccine panel:COVID-19 vaccine rollout hasn’t worked, but change is coming